Talks break down over control of pesticides in salmon waters

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- After settlement negotiations broke down, environmentalists said Tuesday they were pressing ahead with a lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pesticide pollution in salmon streams.

Meanwhile, two groups involved in the lawsuit issued a new report based on government data saying EPA has failed to meet its legal responsibilities to protect threatened and endangered salmon from pesticides, and five major watersheds in the West show a total of 16 pesticides exceeding levels set by EPA.

The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Washington Toxics Coalition and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations sued EPA a year ago in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

They want to force EPA to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, as required by the Endangered Species Act, over the effects on salmon of a wide range of pesticides used on everything from suburban lawns to farm fields.

Research has shown that pesticides at levels as small as few parts per billion may not kill salmon directly, but can alter their behavior so they are less able to flee predators and reproduce.

Negotiations with EPA ''imploded'' Monday night, said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest law firm representing the plaintiffs.

Goldman said she was barred from discussing details of the breakdown, but fishers and environmentalists were seeking on-the-ground protections for salmon, many of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The plaintiffs will now seek a court order forcing EPA to protect salmon from pesticides, she said.

Bill Dunbar, Northwest regional spokesman for the EPA in Seattle, said the negotiations were being handled by attorneys out of EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and he was not able to get details on the latest developments.

''The EPA in general, and in particular EPA region 10, recognizes that pesticides in the waters is a serious problem,'' Dunbar said. ''Not enough has been done in the past. We are trying to make up for lost time.

''But there some 20,000 products out there, and at least a million and a half certified pesticide applicators. So it takes awhile to make the improvements that we clearly need.''

In a report titled ''Poisoned Waters,'' the two anti-pesticides groups compiled water samples gathered by the U.S. Geological Survey from five major watersheds: Puget Sound in Washing-ton, the Central Columbia River in Washington and Idaho, the Willamette River in Oregon, the Sacramento and San Joaquin-Tulare watersheds in California.

The report said Puget Sound had seven pesticides exceeding levels to protect aquatic life, the Central Columbia had seven, the Willamette had 12, the Sacramento four, and the San Joaquin-Tulare had nine. In all, 16 different pesticides were found exceeding the level to protect aquatic life.

Beyond killing salmon, the pesticides can kill insects the young fish feed on, as well as streamside vegetation that stabilizes river banks and keeps the water cool, the report said.

''Through EPA registration documents, we were able to find EPA-registered legal uses of pesticides,'' said Pollyanna Lind of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. ''At these legal uses, they expect them to result in concentrations in our water that are harmful to salmon or salmon habitat.

Erika Schreder, of the Washington Toxics Coalition, said federal agencies must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure their actions do not harm endangered species.

''What we show in our report is that EPA made determinations for 36 pesticides likely to cause problems for salmon, yet EPA failed to act on its own findings to restrict those pesticide uses.''

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